Five years ago today I volunteered to drive a friend to her brother’s house, about two hours each way, so that she could spend Christmas with her family. When we got to the town we were headed to, before we found the house and went inside for tea I decided to ask her if she was interested in us being a couple. Today I am posting from where my wife and I are spending Christmas this year with her family.
For some people there are no special holidays at this time of year. Some of “the holidays” have already come and gone while other folks will be waiting another week or two for their holy days to arrive. For some, Christmas is a profoundly holy time while others are less moved by religion than by their love for the time of social and cultural celebration with loved ones. For some people this is a time of joy, for others it’s difficult. Whatever your tradition and/or disposition, it is my hope that every person reading this will find blessing in their own way as the wheel of the year completes another turn and the light begins to grow longer each day.
I’m back from holidays for a year-end post next Sunday where I will talk about some of the content you can expect to see in 2019.
Imagine a video game that practically begs me to write about it on this blog. What does it look like? Probably some kind of fantasy or science fiction lore that makes clever game mechanics seem like they belong in play. It is probably ripe for social commentary, has an interesting economic system, and allows a vast array of different play styles for any kind of player. It would most likely involve many players and include choices about what kind of character a player wants to be. Good or evil? Violent or pacifist? Nice or jerk? Any/all combinations would be possible.
Now imagine the absolute opposite of that game. You are probably imagining something closer to Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator than to the games I usually write about. But today, I am going to be writing about playing Dream Daddy precisely because it’s so different than anything I would normally pick up. I received it as a gift in late 2017, and now figure that it’s a good time (around Valentine’s Day) to do something related to romance.
First, I am going to admit to some not entirely justified assumptions I had going in. Dating simulator, I thought, am I some kind of angry basement troll looking to dull his loneliness by playing a game where I can pretend to practice basic decency and be duly rewarded with my very own anime waifu? There are probably many counter-examples, but that’s what I assumed about the genre. When I saw the gift in my Steam inventory I had to look at the store page, and it immediately struck me: this looks way too gay to appeal to that stereotype. I wasn’t going to be embarrassed to have my wife catching me playing this in the same way that I might if I was playing Sakura Spirit or something with an aesthetic like that. So I decided to give it a shot.
The first thing I noticed is that while “gay” and “dating sim” aren’t usually keywords that tag me as the target demographic, there is still an awful lot of fan service for me in there. Corny puns, clever meta-jokes, and pop culture references relevant to the late 1990s had me laughing several times in my first play session. It plays out like an interactive novel but unlike Dear Esther or Gone Home there isn’t much opportunity to linger on some things and skip others even as I progress through a linear plot. Most of my first session was spent clicking through endless dialogue and exposition. It was charming, but kind of odd that not a day after moving into my new neighbourhood it starts raining men.
The first encounter I chose after the long introduction made it seem like I could not possibly mess this up, that I was just being offered the chance to say three different nice things. However, upon exploring more of the different options from the main “dadbook” screen, I found that there are some things the player-dad can do that will upset one of his new friends. I didn’t do too badly at that, though I was miserable at most of the minigames and the trivia contest. Things got a bit heavy when pursuing the Joeseph storyline and I had to quit for the day. I appreciated the effective use of the fade-to-black to avoid being too explicit on the intimacy, but the game did not pull any punches when it came to getting real about depression and societal expectations of men. It’s not all cheery colour palettes and cheesy jokes.
From what I can conclude so far, not having played through every possible ending, I would say that it was one of the strangest games I have played but it was rather entertaining. I had many laughs. But no matter how much xennial bait and silly puns that a person could cram into an interactive narrative, I don’t think I will be returning to this genre any time soon. I can, however, say that I should be better about making assumptions because this was far more fun than I would have assumed it could be.
This week I will be taking a break from writing about video or tabletop games due to something big that happened in my personal life. On Wednesday I asked someone special a very special question. I went to the coffee shop where we first met three years ago, secured the table we sat at, and when my partner arrived I proposed marriage. Today I will be talking about the silly games that were played leading up to this fateful event — not personal drama, but the things that our culture and society have built up around the tradition of the marriage proposal.
Ring shopping was an exercise in reminding me why financial literacy and thinking critically about non-recreational games is so incredibly important: because without it, I might have been to play by an insane set of rules. Three months’ salary? One month’s salary? Nope. Such rules are hokum invented by the people who want to relieve you of as much of your salary as possible. “There will always be the question of who has the bigger ring, with girls comparing and boys not wanting to be outdone.” Count me out. That is a game I refuse to play.
I knew going in ahead of time that my budget was much lower than what might otherwise be expected, and that salespeople would try and upsell me because it is their job, but I was surprised at how viscerally I felt when that happened. It is frightening to think that I would ever have considered monthly payments. I don’t think I was ever the type who would go have overboard on a massive rock, but I have only recently become the sort of person who must restrain himself from projectile vomiting all over the display case when hearing the words “investment” and “financing” come up in this context. It is terrifying to think that I might have signed up for something like this if I was in this market even just three years ago. Like war, there are some games best won by refusing to play. This is one of them. I think more people ought to speak honestly and openly about how terrible this show-off contest is, and hopefully it will come to be seen as antiquated as a dowry. I happily made a purchase of something shiny and beautiful to imbue with sentimental meaning, but neither I nor my fiancée are competing with anyone in the process.
And so I managed to obtained a ring to rule them all without getting sucked into trying to prove anything to anyone. Now let’s talk about venue for the proposal: I’m not out to judge other people, but what works for some people would be abhorrent to my sensibilities. I realize that once you get to the point of asking this question you should know that the answer is going to be “yes” unless there are some serious communications problems going on. However, it’s not a question if there is only one answer.
There was no way I was going to put her on the spot in front of a stadium full of people or anything like that. I would not have gone in with the expectation she would say no, but I would consider it a simple matter of respect not to ask the question in a way that “oh, um, can we take a little more time on this?” would have caused extreme public embarrassment. “Yes” is the only answer when you are put on the spot like that, which is why I was so appalled when I heard what happened to He Zi on Sunday. I am sure Qin Kai meant well, and they both looked extremely happy about it, but this is truly the antithesis of what my modest proposal was meant to be. Rather than labouring to produce a moment, or capitalizing on someone else’s moment, why not allow the moment to stand on its own? I can’t imagine looking back on that moment at our favourite café and wishing I had done it in a way that proved I was more clever and powerful than every other man alive at the time. Participation in that sort of contest ultimately endorses the finite view of sexuality where the winner’s prize is not just won by defeating the opponent but where the prize is a defeated opponent (Finite and Infinite Games, p. 79). Although I may relish the titles of fiancé or husband, obtaining a title is not the endgame. It’s not about winning her hand in marriage. I do choose to make certain traditions part of my story, but I seek to make the story about chasing a horizon rather than crossing a finish line.
I also don’t understand why some people think they have to deliver an award-winning speech when keeping it simple will do. If you are successful, you will have the rest of your life to weave flowery purple prose in honour of your partner. If not, well, then you won’t have written a speech for naught. Either way, in the heat of one of the most emotionally stressful moments in your life, why not just get it out? An infinite view of sexuality is not serious but joyous, and revels in open and honest self-discovery (Finite and Infinite Games, p. 84). There is therefore no reason to get it perfect in the moment, and every reason to be more dramatic than theatrical. I was far less nervous about the whole thing precisely because I had no lines to flub. There was no success or failure to be had, only a simple question that would define how we proceed with the stories of our lives.
I refused to play silly games according to rules that would have seen me make a much bigger, more expensive production over something that was simple and every bit as meaningful. Declining to compete with others in a crass display of wealth consumption is allowing me to focus on what’s really important. All in all, I think we decisively won this round in the game of love. I’ll be back to writing about storytelling and rolling dice next week.